By Charles Hallman
For most Minnesotans at this time of year, their favorite pastime is not ice fishing but selective second-guessing. U of M Men’s Basketball Coach Tubby Smith currently is this season’s selected recipient. A recent Pioneer Press top sports story, “Why so many transfers?” (January 8), slyly cast doubt on Smith’s program.
Players come and go from college basketball programs for various reasons — check the transactions section at the back of the daily sports page to verify this remark — and Minnesota is no exception. Four players have left the Gophers in the course of a year, each for his own legitimate reason.
One player leaves because he got busted shoplifting. Another leaves to be closer to an ailing sister, another because he got homesick and wished to return to his native California, and another because of unhappiness as well as not following team rules.
Did they all leave because of Smith, as the headline slyly purports? Is the fourth-year Gophers coach to blame? Hardly, but it makes for selective second-guessing and silly speculation.
It certainly didn’t help when yet another player spends a half-evening in jail because he chose to send a New Year’s greeting to a former girlfriend. Nothing wrong with that except that it violated an existing restraining order.
A local sports talk host even ventured out on the proverbial limb to stupidly suggest that this latest incident can be linked to former coach Clem Haskins. Is this to say that the so-called sins of the former Black coach are now on Smith, the current Black coach?
Hearing such nonsense last week as I frustratingly tried to maneuver around town on snow-covered streets gave me a Marvin Gaye moment: Made me want to holler and put up both my hands.
Although the two-page story briefly presented why each player left, and the article didn’t come out and openly blame Smith for the departures, the headline unfortunately served its primary purpose. It put doubts in the minds of the unsuspecting public, especially at the time the Gophers’ men hoopsters were struggling in early Big Ten play.
Just as with dog barks and their bites, such headlines are far worse than the actual story itself. It was nothing more than cockeyed speculation disguised as front-page news on a slow news day.
Again, let me reaffirm that players leave all the time. I don’t ever recall anyone jumping on then-Indiana coach Bob Knight when a player named Larry Bird left his program because of homesickness. But I guess it’s all right when White players leave White coaches, or even when Black players leave White coaches.
Former Gophers receiver Bryant Allen transferred to Illinois State. His departure didn’t earn alarming headlines, mainly because U of M football is second-page news. But when four Black players leave a program headed by a Black coach, it warrants banner headlines?
Some players also left under Haskins, such as a young guard named Charles Thomas, because he was frustrated with playing time. Ben Coleman left the “U” for Maryland because he wasn’t happy playing for Jim Dutcher. I wasn’t in town then, but I suspect it didn’t get headlines like the one that recently ran in the St. Paul daily.
“Sometimes people are unhappy and want to go somewhere else,” U of M junior Trevor Mbakwe was quoted as saying in the Pioneer Press article.
It’s just plain wrong to blame Smith for decisions made by inexperienced young men who got swept up in the recruiting whirlwind only to later discover that the school they chose wasn’t as they originally hoped. These kids left on their own accord, and if they can be happier somewhere else, it’s their right to do so.
And it’s not our right as second-guessing reporters to expect them to stay where they’re not happy. Perhaps these players had a Luther Vandross moment: A house is not a home unless you feel it’s right for you.
There’s nothing wrong with Smith’s program. It’s only guesswork at best to speculate that if the departed four had stayed, the team might have a few more wins. But speculating about it, without anything more to say, is simply cockeyed and a clear practice of needless second-guessing, which we know by now is Minnesota’s favorite pastime in the depths of winter.
Color rediscovered on Gophers FB coaching staff
After reading our December 23 Another View column, a U of M spokesman contacted us and said that new Minnesota Coach Jerry Kill has hired four coaches of color: Jeff Phelps, Brian Anderson, Eric Kline and Daryl Agpalsa. Along with Thomas Hammock, this makes a grand total of five coaches of color on the staff.
Without a media guide to check photographs, I’ll have to take the spokesman’s word for that.
Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to email@example.com.